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Ten tips for dealing with the press effectively

The following is an extract from the book; ‘Build a brand in 30 days’ by Simon Middleton.

The Expert View: Gordon Maw, MAW Communications

Why should my business engage with the media?

PR deals with two key things; reputation and awareness. It can help provide independent endorsement for your organization or your individuals, it can enhance your reputation and increase awareness of what you do. For many companies, PR can help to create an environment where other advertising works harder – so if people have heard of you and they respect you, they are more likely to respond to your other messages.

While PR is a broad church these days, the elements that are dependent on journalist-based content are principally concerned with the medium of “news”. Therefore, any attempt to work with this media must be based within the context of news.

‘News’ means something people haven’t heard already. You have to put yourself in the journalist’s shoes and remember that a journalist is part private investigator, part screenwriter. If you want to work with journalists effectively, you’ve got to be able to appeal to both parts – give them something that is new and relevant to their readers and help them to paint pictures and make the story come to life.

Ten tips for working with the press effectively

  • Find your news in actual events – new staff, company results, a new promotional campaign, a major expansion, a new office, winning an award, an accreditation, a new team, a new department, a new logo/brand, a new website, a new office, an event, a new bit of kit, a new product launch, a new deal, a new contract, a big new client, an internal team building event, staff having triplets, staff that excel outside of work…
  • Get to know your media – find out which media is relevant to you, look at the kind of stories they cover and how they do them and then start building a relationship with them. PR is based on relationships – on the premise that it is very hard to do business with people you don’t know. Think about how you could meet the journalists either by suggesting a meeting over coffee or a lunch or by approaching them at networking events.
  • If you really want to get your message across, pick up the phone and engage the journalist directly. Be prepared, be confident, make your story different. In short, help the journalist understand why he should cover your story.
  • Learn how to write great press releases – if you are going to write a press release, make sure it is a good one. That means great headers, pithy quotes and being able to convey the context of the story in the first couple of paragraphs.
  • Insight and research – you won’t always have a ‘hard news’ peg or a ‘world exclusive’ so sometimes you need to generate ‘news out of nothing. One of the most common tools is research. This can be consumer or market research commissioned through a specialist research agency or it could be based on your own desk research of a particular issue.
  • Charity, sponsorship, awards – the traditional PR Holy Trinity – don’t be afraid to use these – they have conveyed strong messages about organizations for years and still work today. They each have a simple media mechanic – for example; a charity initiative can demonstrate that you are a supportive brand that does good things. Sponsorship gives you the opportunity to associate your brand with success or other valuable attributes. Winning an award is a strong and independent endorsement of your brand and the things you do.
  • Become an industry expert – there is a strong possibility that you know more about your industry and the issues that impact it than anyone else in your area. That insight is precious and very valuable to journalists. You need to learn how to put it into context and how to use it in a way that benefits yourself and the media.
  • Talk about the big things and people will think you’re big – Virgin Atlantic had one plane when they launched but they chose to go head to head with British Airways who had over 300. The net result was that both customers and the industry believed that they were a genuine rival to BA rather than an upstart with one plane!
  • Give your news a twist – news is better when completely unexpected. For example; an energy provider telling people to turn their heating on during an August heatwave to test the pipes.
  • PR is a visual art – most newspapers contain more photographs than articles so invest in photography. A professional photographer could charge £100-£150 for a session, but it could cost you more in wasted time to do your story without a picture.

You can’t ignore the revolution taking place in online PR. Within a lifetime’s memory, people queued in the street to buy a copy of the Daily Express because it was the biggest selling daily newspaper in the world, and the best way to find out what was going on. Today, many people are just as likely to hear about something for the first time via online social media such as Facebook or twitter. But how can organisations harness the web for PR purposes?

  • Researching journalists – the web offers a range of tools for researching journalists and the things they write about. In addition to simply Googling, there are free tools such as www.journalisted.com. Journalisted is an independent, not-for-profit website built to make it easier for the public to find out more about journalists and what they write about.
  • Press release distribution – there is a proliferation of online press release distribution sites on the web that can compliment your traditional distribution as well as your SEO activity. They offer a range of services, with an accompanying range of price tags per press release, designed to send your release direct to media websites in a number of different ways.
  • Online research tools – there was a time when commissioning some research meant paying a fortune for a traditional research agency. Now there are a range of options from creating your own surveys online that you can send to your own database, right up to online omnibus surveys that allow you ask a sample of the UK population.
  • Online journalist networking – a lot of journalists are active bloggers and twitter users and it is an increasingly common way to build relationships. Many journalists will talk about the articles they are trying to write or ask specifically for help on Twitter.
  • Blogging – the reality these days is that a blog posting about your organisation can be just as likely to appear on page one of a Google search as an article about you in the FT. As a result, you have to take blogs seriously and work out how your organisation deals with them.
  • Monitoring press coverage – you may not have your own press cuttings service to monitor your brand and your coverage but there are an array of powerful free tools online. Google Alert, for example, can search the internet for any relevant terms in news or blogs.
  • Google – the first step for many people when checking out a company is to Google them – so your Google footprint (the first couple of pages of search results, have a huge say on your reputation. But you can influence it. Newspaper websites, Blogs, online press release distribution sites, networking sites like LinkedIn and more traditional business networks such as the Chamber of Commerce all have highly optimised web sites. That means that by working with the right sites can ensure that your news and key messages will appear high up in any search engine results page.

An extract from the book ‘Build A Brand In 30 Days’ by Simon Middleton. Published by Capstone Publishing Ltd, ISBN 9781907312427. Reproduced with the kind permission of the author.